Beyond Pumpkin Pie: A Cake For Hazelnuts Lovers

IMG_1264Since my first Thanksgiving in the USA I have been trying to bring a little bit of Italy to the holiday’s table.

After all, in Italy we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie is not an Italian typical dessert, and turkey is definitely not one of my preferred meal.

Two days until Thanksgiving; Are visions of the ultimate pumpkin pie dancing in your head yet? Well, I want to share a recipe that could be a delicious alternative, or addition, to your classic pumpkin or pecan pie.

Torta farcita alla nocciola. It’s a chocolate ganache, hazelnut cake filled with hazelnut buttercream …what not to love!

While the cake itself is excellent and delicious, the buttercream makes the recipe shine. The chocolate ganache it’s just the icing on the cake, no pun intended.

Why hazelnut?

  • It’s classic autumn staple.
  • It’s a typical product of my birthplace of Avellino, which produces one-third of the whole Italian production.
  • It’s my son’s favorite flavor. I baked this cake last week for his 29th birthday.

I bet this cake might become your family’s newest holiday tradition!

Most of the hazelnut cake’s recipes online are pretty similar however, I like the one from Emiko Davies (cake only) especially for the use of olive oil, and espresso coffee. Emiko Davies is amazing, she is a cook, a cookbook writer, a photographer. If you don’t know her yet, you should definitely should check her out. I only made few adjustments: I used unbleached cake flour to yield a lighter crumb. Instead of baking powder, I used Lievito Pan degli Angeli (It’s an Italian leavening agent with vanilla, used in cakes. It’s name literally translate into: Yeast Bread of the Angels. I usually bring it back from Italy but you can order it on-line). I added a pinch of sea salt.

The buttercream was one of my mother-in-law’s specialties, I learned from her and I used her recipe.






For the cake:

  • 7 oz.                          shelled hazelnut, toasted.

NOTE: You can also use the same quantity of hazelnut meal

  • 5.2 oz.                       unbleached cake flour
  • 3                                eggs
  • 4.4 oz.                       unsalted butter, softened and cubed (I use European butter)
  • 7 oz.                          sugar
  • 4.4 oz.                       espresso coffee (cold)
  • 4.4 oz.                       whole milk
  • 1 tbsp                        olive oil
  • 2 tbsp                        rum or Marsala (optional)
  • 1 pinch                      salt
  • 1  ½ tbsp                   baking powder ( I use 1 ½ bag of Pan degli Angeli)

For the buttercream:

  • 5                                eggs
  • 8.8 oz.                      unsalted butter, softened and cubed (I use European butter)
  • 4.4 oz.                      sugar
  •                                  hazelnut paste (see below)
  • 1 tbsp.                      espresso coffee (cold)

For the hazelnut paste and for the decoration:

  • 3/4 cup                   shelled hazelnut, toasted.

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 1 cup                       heavy cream
  • 8 oz                         dark chocolate (I used 60%)
  • 1 pinch                    salt
  • 1 tbsp                      espresso coffee (hot)


For the cake:

Preheat the oven at 350 F

Pulverize the toasted hazelnut very fine. Combine with the flour and the baking powder.

In a food processor, beat the butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one by one until well combined.

Incorporate the dry ingredients. Add the salt, milk, coffee, olive oil, and liquor and mix until just combined.

Pour into a greased and floured cake pan (10 inch). Bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and springy. Test with a cake tester or a toothpick. The cake is ready if the toothpick comes out dry.

Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.


While the cake is cooling, prepare the hazelnut paste, and the hazelnut coarse and fine  powder for the decoration. This is a 3 steps process. NOTE: Before you start, save a dozen whole hazelnuts. In a food processor or blender, grind the hazelnuts until they have a medium- coarse consistency. Remove ¼ cup of the hazelnut and save. Keep blending the remaining hazelnuts until they have a fine texture. Remove 1 tablespoon and save for decoration. Continue blending until the remaining hazelnuts release their oil and the mixture becomes smooth and buttery. Your hazelnut paste is ready.

Prepare the buttercream:

Put the 5 egg yolks into a mixer with a whip attachment.

In a small saucepan, place the sugar and then pour the water down the side of the pan, making sure that no sugar has remained around the sides. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring the syrup to boil. At this point, use a candy thermometer and cook until thread stage (223-235 degrees).

When the syrup is at the right stage, drizzle it down the wall of the running mixer containing the eggs. Continue whipping until the mixture has cooled down and it appears light and fluffy. Start adding the butter, few cubes at the time to thicken the mixture. Lastly, add the coffee and the hazelnut paste while continuing mixing until all the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cake:

Set the cake over a cake board. Cut the cake to obtain two discs. Spread ¾ of the buttercream evenly on the base of the cake, leaving a 1/2 – inch border all around to prevent frosting from spilling out. Place the second disc on top and slightly press down until the frosting reaches the edge. Spread the remaining buttercream evenly on the top and all around the side. Spread the hazelnuts powder all around the side (save 1 tablespoon of the hazelnut powder)

Keep the cake chilled. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

Prepare the chocolate ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream at medium-high heat. As it comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat.

Pour the cream and the hot coffee over the chocolate. Make sure the chocolate is all submerged but do not whisk yet. Let rest for 10 minutes, then whisk until combined and translucent.


Place the chilled cake on a drip rack set on top of a rimmed cookie sheet. Using a ladle, pour a large amount of the ganache over the top of the cake. Start in the center, and swirl the ganache toward the edges and down around the side of the cake. Continue pouring the ganache over the cake until it looks completely covered and uniform. Give the tray a gentle tap to release any air bubbles that may have formed in the ganache.

You can decorate your cake with the remaining hazelnut powder, and with the whole hazelnuts that you had reserved. NOTE: A poured ganache marks up easily so, while decorating, try not to touch the cake.

Let the ganache set completely then, with the help of an offset spatula, carefully slid the cake onto a platter.


I hope you will love it!

Ciao, MG

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